Recordings shed light on black experience in NM

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 17, 2014 at 10:01 am •  Published: February 17, 2014

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Meet Bill Huff. His age is unknown but the raspy tone in his voice hints at a person who has seen a lot during his lifetime. It was a random day in 1982 and the African-American man spent almost two hours discussing a time in Carlsbad that now seems like a distant memory.

He talked about several things, but mostly he talked about some of Carlsbad's darker times during segregation. However, he never let the negative feelings ruin his time in a city he had come to admire.

"It's a nice wonderful town," he says. "Lovely people here and nice folks here. Majority (people) here are good folks and they always been good folks here in this town, regardless of creed or color."

Huff may just live as a memory in some of Carlsbad residents' minds; he is just one of Carlsbad's black residents who were interviewed to be included in New Mexico State University's oral history interview collection.

In his interview, Huff said he moved to Carlsbad in 1944 from Colton, Texas, following a brief visit to the city. He did some minor work at a local car garage which is how he earned his living in Texas. Money was ultimately the deciding factor to drag him and his wife across state borders. A figure on a week's check from the Carlsbad garage was the ticket, even though it startled him at first. He said he thought his first weekly paycheck from the garage was a mistake. He was used to receiving $12 for a week's worth of pay at the garage in Texas. So, it should be understandable his shock when he saw a check for $55 at the end of the week. It was news he immediately told his wife.

"I said 'Honey, I tell you what. Did you know I made more money in one week then both of us work down there in a month?'"

The decision was simple and Huff moved down to Carlsbad. While $55 dollars a week sounds paltry by today's standards, he admitted in the interview it was the most amount of money he ever seen at that point. Work was a value Huff seemed to respect and honor. In the interview, he said his first job involved him washing dishes for a woman when he was younger. His pay: a chance to use her new bike for 40 minutes, which was fine by him. He asked his father if he could get a new bike he wanted, but his father could not afford a bike at the time. So his trade off was work for bike time. And he had no complaints.

"That was my pay," he said. "I was satisfied. (I) Had a stomach full food free of charge and riding a bicycle."

For Leget Reynolds, aka Deacon Jones, life in Carlsbad began earlier. Born in Charleston, Arkansas, Jones moved to Carlsbad in 1929, before the start of the Great Depression and was later interviewed too in for the library.

Jones talks about his time as a guitar player for cowboy dances around town. He loved playing, something he said he still did at a local church during his interview. And like Huff, Jones enjoyed his pay. Jones said him and his partner would split $80, $90, and even $100 per gig they played.

"I was scared to say anything about it," he said. "Somebody might rob me."

Jones was the youngest of 15, he said during the interview. He moved to Carlsbad for a better place to live. Jones spent time doing farm work, railroad jobs and highway work.

"When I first came to Carlsbad, there were just mesquite bushes and cotton patches," he said. "There weren't no country clubs. Just mesquites and sand dunes."

But don't add bartending as a job he loved. In the interview, he said it was the worst job he had. He spent time as a bartender at several local bars, but the fights and drunks became too much for Jones he said. In fact, he credits bartending as one of the reasons he quit drinking in 1965.

While these two people reminisced on some of their good times in Carlsbad, both Huff and Jones spent most of their first years in Carlsbad witnessing segregation first hand.